Comfort Zones

We all like to live in our comfort zones. It’s our natural human state to like things that are familiar and easy to for us to do or relate to and shy away from the things that we find uncomfortable. I have found myself in that position several times since taking on a new job. I left the coffee world and a job that I knew I was good at. I knew what was expected and how to do everything that I might need to. I started at a church knowing that indeed it was the exact right thing to do but not having any idea what I was getting myself into. I’m a little over a month in and I’m still not exactly sure what I’m doing but I know I’m exactly where I need to be. What I’ve found is that even though I know I’m in the exact place God wants me to be I’ve been thrown in some situations that make me uncomfortable, but in a good way.

I firmly believe that God has given us all certain gifts. Paul writes in 1Corinthians that “to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 corinthians 12:7) So if we have these gifts for the command good of all people I think we also should be pretty confutable using them. And it’s true that you ask me to get in front of a group of people to preach, teach, perform a poem, make them some coffee, and I’m as comfortable as my pugs on the couch. But to ask me to start basically making cold calls to random adults in the church that I’ve never met to ask them to be adult leaders in our ministry that kind of scares me a bit. However, this is my task, this is my calling, this is where I’m supposed to be, so I do it. I’ve discovered, I don’t suck at it.

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This is what my pugs look like on the couch… Comfortable right?

I wonder how often God puts us in positions to succeed, He gives us everything that we need and yet we miss something, we never take the risk or the chance because we might feel uncomfortable? I know it’s happened to me a lot. Somehow I think most of the uncomfortableness people experience in the Church, especially one in a bubble like East Cobb County has to do with interacting with strangers. I could easily greet hundreds of strangers every day when I was at a coffee shop. It would be a little awkward and I would be fired pretty quick if I never talked with them. However now that it’s still part of my job and on a much more intimate level I think about it from the perspectives of the people that it’s not their “job.” When I was in high school Jesus grabbed me when I was going into my senior year. No one invited me to church even though I desperately wanted to go and eventually stopped resisting the call of God and went. I think about when I would have gone in a heartbeat if someone just asked me to. But no one spoke up.

Maybe it’s because we might be scared to talk about our faith. Maybe there are some people that think church is an exclusive thing that they like to be members of and if more people join it loses it’s value. Yet I’m reminded constantly that we have something that doesn’t belong to us. The gospel belongs to the world. If it belongs to the world we can never and should never think of ourselves as an exclusive club that loses value the more inclusive we are. The Church from it’s very beginning was never meant to only be for certain people who pass a test or have the right characteristics. The Church as they say is for everyone. A church that lives within it’s four walls is no church at all. My friend James Barnett reminded me of something important this week when in a message he was preaching to Embrace Church in Sioux Falls he said: “What’s the point of being healed if we just hang out in hospitals?”

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If we come to church and we are healed. Which as a believer in Christ you may not have healed of a disease, or a broken bone, or had a demon cast out of you. But we have been healed of the stain of sin in our lives and we have been redeemed and healed of the pain and sickness that causes death. We know that Jesus put death in his grave and we are no longer bound to the life that might have been. We are healed and now it’s our job not to hang out in hospitals with other folks that have been healed of their sin but to go into the world. To be uncomfortable in how we ask people to come to church. To be confident that if we are being asked to do something uncomfortable we can have the confidence that God will show us the way to make it happen.

When we go into the world with seeds of hope and love we can start to see the world with new eyes. There is a filter in which we interact with the world with a rose haze of love. As C.S. Lewis has said “There are no ordinary people, you have never talked to a mere mortal.” These immortals that we talk with, work with, joke with, walk by everyday might not realize that they have an inheritance in Christ and we just need to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s a simple act of a smile that can communicate love beyond our understanding so that we can live giving hospitality to strangers as well as the people we know well. Not only are they not ordinary but either are we, we are the hand with which Christ will bless the world. Because what if we’ve not only been saved from something, but we’ve been saved for something too?

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My Best Loved Podcasts

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I love living in the city of Atlanta. I love my beautiful neighborhood with fantastic people. I love that my neighbors are more than just people who live next door but we have parties and share in our celebrations together along with sharing our stuff. I love that whenever we go out of town I can count on Neighbor Will (yes that is what we call him) to look after our house and pick up our mail. I love that this city has had an abundance of coffee shops open up that are each unique and the market is not even close to saturated. But there is also the fact that I work about a 30 minute drive away in Marietta and that’s without traffic. Anyone who knows Atlanta will know this place isn’t exactly the best at driving in and out of the city. It’s not exactly great at driving in the city either but that’s for another day. With all this time on the road I’ve discovered music just isn’t always the thing to listen to. So instead I’ve been using this drive time to do a little learning and keeping up to date with our culture. So Today I’m just going to list some of my favorite podcasts that I listen to every day. This is going to be a very diverse mix of pop culture, ministry, coffee, and sports. so without further ado and in no particular order, my favorite podcasts:

Dan-Patrick-Show-LogoThe Dan Patrick Show

I love this for more than allowing me to keep up to date with sports in the US. It’s a national show that also touches on pop culture, TV, movies, and helps me to talk with my community while being informed on the issues they might care about. Many people at the church I work at love sports and since I don’t have cable or watch Sports Center this enables me to be able to be informed and participate in our conversations. I also love Dan’s interview style. He asks tough questions of his guests and doesn’t let them off the hook with nonsense answers. I love that it’s like there’s just a microphone in the middle of their conversation and allows us as the audience to listen in as if they are just friends talking. This also ensures that there is buy-in from his listeners. Audience members can call and weigh in on the topics of the day and sometimes the callers are just as good as the famous athletes that come on. It’s a great sign of a good podcast when a complete stranger like me who has never called in can feel as if they are a part of the team. I would suggest this podcast for anyone who loves sports and wants to keep up with the topics of the day. There are plenty of times when I’m watching an important game and can’t wait until the next day just the hear the Dan’s opinion on what happened. He also has a great supporting cast he calls his Dannettes. 4 people that have a great following on social media and allow the audience to relate to someone who isn’t a big name like Dan Patrick.

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The Threshing Floor

This is a ministry focused podcast hosted by 3 young adult pastors and graduates of Asbury Theological Seminary where I went to school. There can sometimes be a lot of tangents in the course of the show but the majority of the time it’s a journey you want to go on. Mean who doesn’t want to find out more information on Bigfoot sightings and how to track him in the wilderness? This show also allows you behind the scenes into the thoughts of pastors wrestling with the same questions we all are. How is it with you soul? How to minister to a hurting world? What is the purpose and meaning of lent? Why do we fast? These are topics that as educated pastors they discuss in depth and don’t settle for easy answers and sometimes can’t come up with any because there might not be one. They invite others into their conversation by having on amazing guests like Adam Weber form Embrace Church, or Alan and Deb Hirsch. As we all think about how the incarnation affects our lives and what it means to be a Christian voice in this world this podcast is insightful, inspirational, and most of all an encouragement for all Christians to try and understand our world with a christian worldview. If you are looking for a place to explore deeper issues for our world and The Church, listen, listen right NOW!

The Cat and Cloud Coffee Podcast

Cat and Cloud is hosted by Jared Truby and Chris Baca out in Santa Cruz California. This is all about my nerdy coffee side. I’m technically no longer a coffee professional since no one pays me to make coffee anymore. But the culture and love of service is something the Church can learn from. Jared and Chris not only describe the super awesome nerdy things that coffee people love like blue tooth enabled scales and La Marzocco espresso machines but also how to change the culture of pretentiousness in the coffee industry by investing in people who love to serve others. Service is something that can get lost in the super controlled world of coffee sometimes. There is so much emphasis on preparing a delicious drink that people forget that the main thing that coffee does is bring people together. Chris and Jared not only remember this but make it their main priority. They have some super cool guests to talk about the competition scene, how to make coffee great, and what really matters when it comes to opening a cafe. I still love to be informed on what’s going on in the coffee industry and this podcast is one of the best when it comes to content and is an overall amazingly entertaining show.

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Youth Culture Matters – A CPYU Podcast

Being in youth ministry you can imagine I spend a lot of time with teenagers and a lot of time trying to figure out how to relate and minister to them. There can be a lot of issues that youth don’t want to talk about or there are things that we all do and need to be able to relate them to youth ministry. This podcast tackles them all. From how to make worship not only relevant to students but also the depth at which they want to worship the creator. To how to deal with crisis situations that aren’t an every day occurrence but if you’re not prepared for them it can be a detriment to a students faith. There is of course talk of social media, blogs, digital information and how not only can parents be able to monitor electronics but why it’s important to The Church to make sure and address technology. We obviously no longer live in the first century church when we wouldn’t have had to worry about Television, twitter or Facebook. Today’s teenagers have access to the best information in the world literally at their fingertips. With all things this can be used for redemption purposes with grace and love for Christ, or it can dive them deep down into a hole of depression and evil. This podcasts allows for discussion on how to help teenagers understand their role in The Church and help them deepen the their faith.

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This American Life

Sometimes I just want to hear a good story. NPR and This American Life does an amazing job at researching and telling great stories. Some of this relates directly to my life other things are just intensely interesting. There is definitely an art form to telling great stories and these people know it backwards and forwards. I can’t recommend this enough for people who are interested in the world. It helps to remind me that there are people everywhere living a story. Sometimes our job as humans isn’t to tell other people about us but it’s to listen to one another and to tell the story of someone else. Without this podcast/radio show these stories would probably never be told, it’s the connections that are created through this medium that can empower and encourage others who might be going through similar situations. It also allows us to connect with one another as a human family. There are days like today with me sitting in a coffee shop watching the world go by. It’s easy to think you’re the center of the universe and forget that there are stories waiting to be told all over the place. I’m thankful for a show like this that allows those stories to be told.

Sheer Silence

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This world is full of noise. You can’t go anywhere without something happening in the background. Music at a coffee shop, a podcast in my ears as I drive home, cars driving past. If I ever take public transportation I need some music to listen to and a book to read. Silence it seems makes us uncomfortable. When I start to teach adult and student leaders about leading others in a Sunday school class or small group discussion, one of the first things that we need to understand is that silence is not only okay, it’s needed. When we ask a question, awkward silences can be times when the Holy Spirit can speak the most to us. I feel it all the time when I teach. Students don’t like to be in silence. They squirm and wonder what to say and want to come up with something quickly. I feel that in my own life. Fridays are now a day off for me while I work in a church. I get to sleep in while my wife goes off to her 8-5 type job. I absolutely love to sleep in and I’ve discovered my routine of waking up, taking my dogs out, fiddling around at the house with stuff most of the time is still filled with noise. I want to have a podcast on in the background and I give myself the excuse that I’m learning something. This could be about the sports of the day listening to Dan Patrick, or maybe it’s about youth culture as I love to listen to Youth Culture Matters a podcast by The Center for Parent and Youth Understanding. I might even be supporting some amazingly talented friends by listening to The Threshing Floor Podcast. On a side note, every one of those podcasts are awesome. In an ever changing world with technology flying around at a million miles an hour it’s important to keep up on what my students are dealing with. Some of these things are deep and heavy, others are wondering about what is the best snapchat filter and not so deep. But they are all important to teenagers.

IMG_5970The Threshing Floor has become a great place for encouragement for me being back on staff at a local church. One of my favorite things about podcasts like The Threshing Floor and the Dan Patrick Show is that I feel like I am ease dropping on a conversation. Joshua Toepper, Drew Causey and Chad Brooks, have deep and meaningful conversations with each other and others inviting their listeners to participate. It’s encouraging to hear struggles and joys as they wrestle with how to theologically think about the practicality of ministry. This is huge for me as youth ministry is in the middle of a theological turn. When ministry to youth needs to be more than just something to do and a way to teach others about Jesus. There is a need for others to participate in the Holy Spirit’s work in the world. Teenagers are looking for more than just pizza and a message but desire for questions that shake their soul to be explored. Of course I also listen to random fun podcasts like Dan Patrick, Bill Simmons, This American Life, The RobCast, and others. Maybe that will be another blog post when I just write about my favorite podcasts because there are plenty, don’t get me started on the coffee ones.

IMG_5041Even when I am alone in my house I still want noise in the background, as I shave, cook breakfast, make my coffee, whatever it might be. Silence is a killer. It’s something I avoid whenever I can. These past few weeks I’ve had conversations with a few different people who are asking some awesome questions like how can I hear God. It’s an important question because I think the Holy Spirit communicates in a lot of different ways. I believe that if we are all made in the image of God and many of us have been given the Holy Spirit that lives within us. With that belief then we can experience the voice of God when others talk with us. It can very well be in the noise that God speaks to us, it’s always important to never put God in a box on how or when he speaks to us. But then I read stories like in the book of 1 Kings and the prophet Elijah. He was at one point afraid for his life. He ran away to be alone and wanted to hear from God what to do. He was told to go stand on a mountain because the presence of the Lord was going to pass by and this is what happened:

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.

The Lord was not in the loud noises but in the sheer silence Elijah knew that the presence of the Lord was upon him. Our world is filled with noise. There are studies that tell us that ambient noise like that of a coffee shop can stimulate creativity. Which is probably why my last few Thursdays have been spent at one of my favorite local spots here in Atlanta. There is a website that you can go to in order to stream noise that was recorded at a coffee shop in order to help stimulate your creativity. This is to make sure that all you people who might be working at home can enjoy the creative power of a coffee shop without needing to pay for an espresso or cortado. There is always something to hear, so it makes me wonder, have I missed the very presence of God because I haven’t sought Him in the sheer silence?IMG_6034

There are several examples of Jesus being bombarded by people. He would heal the sick, teach and then go off to the desolate places to pray. In the Gospel of Mark Jesus sends out His disciples giving them authority over demons while they also anointed many of the sick among them. They proclaimed that people should repent and then when they returned to Jesus, so excited to tell Him all they had done and taught Jesus immediately tells them to rest, to go to a desolate place where no one will find them and to rest. Everyday there is noise, there are places to go and things to do. There are people that are searching to hear the voice of God. Often my loneliest times are when I’m surrounded by people. I can be out in the world, at a restaurant, even in a church and be surrounded by like minded people. Yet be completely alone. I think we can be in the middle of an earthquake of noise surrounded by people. Yet wonder why we’re not hearing from God. Sometimes there are days like Pentecost when the spirit is like a mighty rushing wind and empowers people to make a lot of noise and we can hear and feel the Spirit of the Lord. Other times it can take sheer silence to discover what His voice sounds like.

I don’t know if I’m going to be able to find more times of silence in my life. Hopefully I start to seek them out so God doesn’t have to force them upon me. In the midst of meetings, in the midst of coffee shop noise, in learning from podcasts or getting pumped up by music. We return to the silence not to feel uncomfortable or awkward but to be at home in the presence of God.IMG_5494

How is it With Your Soul?

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One of the things that I’ve been able to do a lot more in my new role is be reflective. When I was working in coffee everything had to be done in the moment. Customers wanted their drinks, employees wanted their schedule, things needed to get done in a certain order and time was always in a crunch. This was exciting a lot of the time. I’ve found myself missing a lot of what the coffee industry had to offer but one thing that I’ve been very thankful for at Mt Bethel is the time I’ve had to read, reflect, and plan in greater terms than what’s going to happen in the next hour. I’ve been able to set aside time to dream. Dream of what God might be asking of me and what God is asking of the student ministries. The question that I keep going back to is something that was near to John Wesley: How is it with your soul?

To me this was the guiding principal I see in the small groups in the early Methodist Movement. This also requires a great deal of reflection. Yet I also don’t see a lot of that in this country, people are living moment to moment without a ton of reflection on how their soul is doing. So as I’m asking myself I would encourage you to ask yourself the same thing, how is it with your soul? Have you done all the good you can while avoiding all the evil you can? I’ve discovered that many of these questions make me uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable because I like to think of my life in terms of being easy. And it is easy. I wake up in a house that I own and can afford the mortgage payments, sleeping next to a wife who loves me and 2 incredible pugs who snore a lot. I go to a job that pays me well in a car that’s reliable and if it breaks down I could afford to fix. I live in a city that is booming one that I have the freedom to choose to live in. I have amazing neighbors. I get to live in a neighborhood of diverse interests, ethnicities, sexual orientation, and religious views but we live together in harmony and I am able to work out what it means to love my neighbor like I love myself. Yet the question of how is it with my soul makes me uncomfortable.

Maybe it’s because I’ve never seriously considered it before. There are many functions to a small group. It could be that they are getting together for purely social purposes. It could be a group that studies scripture together but never gets that deep. It could be a small group that holds each other accountable and are truly close enough to get an honest answer when you ask, have you done all the good you can while avoiding all the evil you can? I think it’s uncomfortable for me because I don’t know if I want to be honest with myself about the answer to that question because I’m so used to living this easy and fun life. If I’m honest about my answers maybe life won’t be so easy anymore.

Last night I gave my first message to the high school students at our Wednesday night programing called Inside Out. In it I walked about what humility is supposed to look like and we repeated together the Litany of Humility. One of the lines that stuck out to me was asking Jesus to deliver me from the desire of being approved. Soon after saying these words together I then was wondering if they approved of me and the message I gave. I was searching to be affirmed, since I am new here it makes sense but at the same time, if I was following after Jesus in the way that He wants me to follow then I shouldn’t worry about being approved, or loved in the standards of this world and with that knowledge I can affirm it is well with my soul.

I’m hoping that I can bring this idea to our Life Groups in the fall. These small groups were started and continue with the idea that we’re supposed to “do life together.” Whenever I think about the words life together I immediately think of Bonhoeffer and the intense book that he wrote about doing Life Together. In this he describes reading scripture, praying, working and living together as iron sharpens iron. I wonder if I am capable of asking the tough questions but more than that, am I ready to answer them. This is how people can grow together by asking the hard questions. So often we think that growing spiritually or growing as a person can be easily handled. But I think true growth is done when things are hard. If I wanted to continue doing something that I was comfortable with and was easy then I would have stayed in coffee and that would have been the easy decision for me. But when you are called, you are sent, and God has sent me to the student ministries of Mt Bethel UMC.

To me this means I’m excited to ask the hard questions of how is it with my soul and to be able to answer them as well. I’ve discovered that as we ask the hard questions even in the awkward silence or resistance to answer there can be joy in the freedom to be honest in a  safe environment. To often churches have been places of judgment and dangerous to the people who are honest about their faults. We have an advocate for us when we constantly fall short of being perfect. He is the one who is able to present us to the throne of God without blemish. So as we ask the hard questions and we’re able to be honest with our answers to each other we can sin less and love more. And as we concentrate on loving more we are able to sin less. We are able to do all the good we can, as often as we can, for as long as we possibly can. And that will always make it well with my soul.